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Cops to probe leak of internal video of anti-Netanyahu protest leader

Top commander rejects accusations of political motives after airing of police footage of Amis Haskel yelling at Ethiopian Israeli officer

Footage aired by Channel 12 news on October 7, 2020, shows retired air force general Amir Haskel during a protest in August outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Footage aired by Channel 12 news on October 7, 2020, shows retired air force general Amir Haskel during a protest in August outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The Jerusalem police chief on Thursday ordered a probe into why internal police video of an anti-government protest leader was leaked to the media, after it emerged the footage was filmed by an officer for operational purposes.

In the video, aired Wednesday by Channel 12 news, retired air force general Amir Haskel can be heard yelling at a police officer of Ethiopian descent during a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“I dedicated years to bringing your parents [to Israel] and this is what we get from you. Shame on you! This is ungratefulness,” Haskel said. “You won’t prevent me from walking on a sidewalk in Jerusalem because I brought them [to Israel].”

Haskel was apparently referring to the air force’s involvement in operations to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Since his highly publicized arrest in June during a peaceful demonstration, Haskel, 66, has emerged as one of the leading symbols of the growing grassroots movement demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down over his indictment on graft charges and his alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

The release of the video came a day after the same network aired footage from a protest in August of Haskel making similar remarks to an Ethiopian policewoman, leading to accusations of racism.

After the second video was aired, the Haaretz daily published footage showing the clip had been filmed by a cop holding a camcorder. The newspaper said most of the protests are filmed by police to use for investigations if any lawbreaking takes place.

Haskel was not investigated over his remarks.

“Now it turns out that the police initiated the entire filmed scene and filmed it themselves and [sent] the material [to the] media. What is happening to the Israel Police?!” Haskel’s Ein Matzav group wrote on Facebook in response to the Haaretz report.

Ein Matzav is one of several groups spearheading the ongoing protests against Netanyahu.

Demonstrators have accused police of using disproportionate force against the rallies, allegedly in capitulation to the wishes of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a top Likud party ally of Netanyahu’s. Police officials have rejected the notion that they are taking any sides on the matter.

Acting police chief Motti Cohen issued a statement Thursday rejecting accusations police were attempting to delegitimize the protests by releasing the video of Haskel.

“The police is not a political body!” he said in a statement. “Claims officials acted out of improper interests are divorced from reality!”

Israeli activist and former Air Force general Amir Haskel holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In response to the initial video, Haskel qualified his statements by saying that his comments came “on the day the [anti-Netanyahu] encampment on Balfour Street was illegally torn down in order to serve an event of the prime minister.”

Haskel said his words had come in response to being threatened and sworn at by police officers during those moments, and that “the attempt to attribute a racist statement to me is baseless, but if there is someone who was offended by it, I am sorry.”

Haskel’s comments sparked outrage among many, including a number of leading government officials.

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